Ground-Breaking Videoconferencing and Distance Learning Solution for the Adirondack Area Network

By Michelle Blank, Ph.D., Vice President of Global Marketing, RADVision, Inc.

Three years ago, Dr. David Bonner, currently the Director of Technology Initiatives at The Sage Colleges, President and CEO of the Adirondack Area Network (AANet), initiated a project to link the local area networks of institutions in the northern part of New York State. The network would provide the local communities in Adirondack Mountains region with continuing medical education, distance learning, video conferencing, telemedicine, and remote legal advice.

Having grown up in the area, Dr. Bonner knew that the telecom infrastructure there was poor at best. "I did some legwork ahead of time and found that the people wanted something done as well," he says. A solution requirement was that it be inexpensive, yet provided all the traditional line services and video conferencing capabilities.

Today, that project, the AANet, serves more than 150 institutions, including colleges, school districts, health care centers, legal organizations, hospitals and the St Regis Mohawk Tribe. In addition to connections averaging four a week within New York State, institutions from the neighboring states and the Canadian providence of Quebec want to join the network. In fact, the AAN is confident that it will have 150 more members on line by 2000.

The network started as collaborative effort, The Sage Colleges, Albany Medical Center, Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) in Malone; Champlain Valley Educational Services in Plattsburgh, Bell Atlantic, RADVision Inc.,Tandberg, Cisco, VTEL, the New York State Education and Research Network (NYSERNet) and New York State. With its fast growth rate, it quickly became an independent 501c3 not for profit organization, the AANet.

Network Technology
The AANet is a state-of-the-art subscription-based full service network designed to link institutions and people in New York State's mountainous northern region to colleges, health care facilities, schools and other institutions in the Albany area.

Originally prototyped with funds from the NY State Advanced Telecommunications project (a Bell Atlantic grant), the implementation of the network began in early 1997 through the combined efforts of Dr. Bonner, Ph.D. and several other information technology experts in the Albany area. Since ATM was difficult to obtain and Frame Relay available, the team developed the initial services to be IP-over-Frame-Relay in the wide area.

In order to make the best use of high quality H.320-compliant systems installed in various member facilities AAN deployed RADVision’s OnLAN videoconferencing gateways and Video Interface Units (VIUs) to make the H.320 systems work over the IP networks. "We have found this to be a very cost effective way to convert legacy H.320 systems for use on this network. In addition, the H.323 boxes provide a routable protocol. In this fashion we are able to accommodate video calls from any source and line media." Dr. Bonner said.

The combination of gateways and VIU terminal adapters for group video systems permits AANet users to communicate between campus Local Areas Networks and the Internet via Frame Relay. Other industry leading companies supplying expertise and technology for this innovative videoconferencing network include Bell Atlantic, Cisco Systems, RealTech and Compression Labs Inc.

The AANet played an essential role in the disaster recovery efforts following the record-breaking ice storms, snow and intense cold that devastated this remote region in January 1998. Since then the AANet has expanded. There are over 70 group videoconferencing end points on the network, and additional 40 IP-video conferencing desktop systems. These systems come from many manufacturers, such as Tandberg, VCON, VTEL, Intel and PictureTel.

"We show users the different options they have and let them choose what they prefer", said Dr. Bonner. "We are familiar with all the products and know that, for most applications, they inter-operate smoothly over our network. We also offer H.323 training to our member organizations. This is primarily for those Local Area Network managers who want to know a little more about their options and how to set up and manage their zones. Their local seats have access to our infrastructure, including H.323 MCUs (multipoint conferencing units) and video network gateways."

Currently, AANet has four RADVision MCUs (9 ports each) and an H.320 VideoServer MCU (12 v.35 ports, 12 BRI, and 1 PRI port) which are used for bridging the AANet. Using RADVision gateways front-ending the Videoserver MCU and the RADVision MCUs as multipliers on these ports, the AANet presently supports a port density of 48. In the near future, AANet will continue the MCUs multiplying effect to obtain a port density of 402. Dr. Bonner said, "It is interesting to note that this port density even supports continuous presents, speed matching and mixing of H.320, H.232e, and H.323 in a given bridged conference call."

Distance Learning Program
The Albany Medical Center (AMC) conducted a ground breaking distance program when the hospitals connected to the AANet participated in a live videoconference of a minimally invasive surgery procedure. To make this procedure visible to all call participants, the operation was broadcast to two rooms within AMC consisting of the Operating Room itself and a large conference room on campus. Joining in the conference via Frame Relay were five other sites in NY (AO Fox Hospital in Oneonta; Adirondack Medical Center, Saranac; Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh; Mary McClellan Hospital in Cambridge and The Sage Colleges in Troy).

Dr. Bonner himself underwent a bilateral hernia operation under general anesthesia and within three hours after the live broadcast, he attended the opening of the Medical Center's new minimally invasive surgery training center. Dressed in sweats and sneakers, he looked liked he had just left a basketball game, not a hospital bed. But there he was, a healthy example for live on-line minimally invasive surgery the brand of surgery that was chiefly responsible for his mobility so soon after the procedure.

During the surgery the surgeon's scopes and workspace video are encoded and digitally mixed in real time. The scopes, lasers and other surgical devices are placed through portholes within the patient's body. The patient's surgery and the instruments are visible in a split screen while the surgeon is viewed in the other portion of the screen. The surgical technique called Minimally Invasive Surgery is a new procedure that allows the surgeon to perform the operation from outside the patient's body with the aid of the scopes and porthole tools.

The multipoint distance learning call is completely interactive, so that the surgeon can be seen and heard by participants and they may ask questions live time to the Operating Room, while viewing the Minimally Invasive operation as well. Albany Medical Center plans to do several on line surgeries every month. Dr. Paul Singh

suggested sessions with the high schools that are members of the Adirondack Area Network, in addition to the other medical centers and higher education institutions. The first scheduled production is scheduled for late June1999 with many to follow.

Conclusion
There may be larger, university-based long distance learning projects in existence, but none can be characterized by the kind of unique technical solution as that developed by a wide variety of companies, organizations and institutions. By all accounts, this high quality, reliable, easy, flexible, and inexpensive videoconferencing application is well ahead of its time.

Original can be found at: RadVision